How COVID-19 Affects Employment Laws

The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses throughout the UK to adapt to a new raft of measures to ensure the safety of their employees.

When the novel coronavirus hit Wuhan, China, in late 2019, no one expected it. The virus that seemed an isolated occurrence in the far east has caused global havoc. By the end of August 2020, almost 900,000 people had succumbed from COVID-19, with over 24 million confirmed cases.

The virus has led to global disruptions of trade, people’s movements, closure of businesses, and mass layoffs in different countries. According to The Guardian, the British economy shrank by 2.2%, which is the worst economic performance for 40 years.

The virus’s economic effects have negatively impacted companies, which has driven many to either downsize or change their mode of operation.  Meanwhile, others have had to cut the salaries of their workforce. Consequently, employees’ normal lives, incomes, rights, and health have been disrupted.

Below is a detailed brief of how COVID-19 affects employment laws.

1. Furloughing of Workers

The Coronavirus Acts 2020 is a provision for all private companies and self-employed people to request government support for wages. The furlough provision covers 80% of the wage to a maximum of £2,500 per month, with the employers meeting the balance.

Therefore, employers are mandated to find a balance for keeping workers on the payroll using the government subsidy. Take note that the normal redundancy laws and regulations are not affected by this provision in the law.

2. Health of Employees

There are millions of COVID-19 infections globally, which poses greater risks to workers. Some of the health recommendations include limiting non-essential travel and encouraging people to work from home. However, as many businesses continue to open up despite the danger, workers are exposed.

There are millions of COVID-19 infections globally, which poses greater risks to workers.

Below are some of the possible effects on the existing laws.

Employers’ Obligation: Employers are obligated to protect employees from diseases, viruses, and bacteria. Therefore, the employers must provide masks, quality Personal Protective Equipment, and other general measures. Essential workplaces must provide a safe work environment, including proper protection against COVID-19, according to a COVID-19 lawyer.

Sick Pay: During normal times, citizens who cannot work because of illness are entitled to sick pay. People infected with COVID-19 or forced to isolate after coming into contact with an infected person are still entitled to sick pay.

Sick Leave: Workers who test positive are required to seek treatment, which may keep them away from work stations. Discrimination against such people is against labor laws because they’re equally entitled to sick leave provisions.

Personal Data Protection: An individual worker’s health status is a private matter. Therefore, such details should be treated with confidentiality. 

It’s against employment law to publish details about COVID-19 infections without authority from the affected employees.

3. Annual Leave or Holidays

As COVID-19 takes a toll on the economy, many companies are unable to financially support their operations. Some companies are also using annual leave to achieve social distance regulations set by the federal government. Hence, despite the ongoing challenges, the standard annual leave provisions must always be upheld.

Some of the standard guidelines about workers’ annual leave are:

  • All workers are entitled to a minimum of 28 days, including the eight bank holidays. These days must be utilised within the calendar year. However, they can be rolled over to the next two years in special circumstances.
  • Workers shouldn’t be compelled to take up annual leave under any circumstance. The provision should only be utilized voluntarily and under the worker’s own will.
  • Companies shouldn’t compel the workforce to take up leave without pay. Instead, companies should use legitimate ways to create redundancies, pay cuts, or furlough provisions.

4. Employers’ Rights

Employers have been hugely affected by the economic impact of COVID-19, some opting to file for insolvency or shut down completely. However, for business continuity, there are provisions available to shield employers.

Some of the provisions that employers can utilise are:

Temporarily Changing Scope of Work: Employers can assign employees duties that are not on the contract document or engagement terms. The measure is intended to cushioning employers during tough economic times and under special circumstances, like COVID-19.

Reduction of Salaries: Employers have leeway to reduce salaries to a certain extent that allows the business to temporarily stay afloat.

Downsizing or Closure: In extreme circumstances, employers are justified under the law to downsize or undertake business closure.

Conclusion

The devastation of COVID-19 on companies and employees has been widely felt. The workers’ rights and privileges are on the line, while others have already been lost. As companies struggle to survive the economic effects, workers’ dignity, protection, and human rights are continuously protected using existing laws. 

For instance, the government has availed the furlough system to protect jobs, employees, and workers’ rights. Additionally, traditional rights, such as the annual leave, will still hold despite COVID-19. 

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